Who or what made you want to become an illustrator?
As a young kid, I knew I wanted to be some kind of artists, because I was soooo obsessed with cartoons! A huge part of my childhood was falling in love with Animated TV shows and films, and then researching/nerding out to any behind-the-scenes content about them so I could learn how they were made - and by who. I did the same with a few of my favourite graphic novels and comics in high school too (my favourite graphic novels to read were classical adaptions!).
Some of my biggest influences were shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Adventure Time, Bravest Warriors, Steven Universe and most recently I'm loving Summer Camp Island. I would save up and buy their art books online, and spent hours savouring every word and sketch, and I still pick up these books to inspire me today! I remember being about 15 when I decided I'd be either an Animator or a Children's book Illustrator - and I have to thank 15 year old me, because now I'm both!
The cartoon worlds that I love still don't feel like ' just kid shows' to me, it feels like anyone can enjoy these fun, silly stories - and I try to bring the same universally welcoming energy to my own art now, and hopefully, some of the vibrancy, joy and adventure as well.
Did you attend art school or undertake any other formal artistic training?
Yes! I had an amazing 3 years of full time study with Griffith University at Queensland College of Art, to earn my Bachelor in Animation (maj. Art DIrection). I am so thankful for my mentors and this program, it taught me so much about form, anatomy, storytelling, composition, character design, colour, experimentation, as well as all the organisational stuff I'd need to know to actually make art my profession.
To this day I'm glad I bit the bullet, and followed my instinct to take what I love seriously!
Where do you currently live and where did you grow up?
I'm enjoying some beautful sunshine here on Yugambeh country (Gold Coast, QLD) today! It's a really special place here - I've lived in a few spots around Southeast Queensland (Australia), but here I get to be close to the mountains, and the sea, and I feel very lucky to call this place home.
Living around nature really grounds me, especially because it reminds me of my childhood in Aotearoa (New Zealand) - it was a very different story there, with lots of rain and cloudy days, but so much lush green grass, and amazing forests (and no dangerous snakes!). I was always exploring and playing in the mud then!
It was a much more rural, wild childhood, and I absolutely still draw upon how magical Aotearoa was/is to me in my work today! I'll always try to capture the voice and energy of the land when I'm assigned books based in Aotearoa - and if you've ever been there, you'll know what I mean. I moved from there when I was 7, when my parents decided we should immigrate to Australia (whole other story!), but even to this day, I still miss it's beautiful rolling landscapes. Please do yourself a favour and put Aotearoa-New Zealand on your bucket list!
Which books from your own childhood really stand out?
Storytime was very sacred in my house - me and my big sister would be tucked in, and then whisked away! I still remember that my mother had an amazing reading voice, and the big winners at my house were Tatty Ratty (Helen Cooper), Where the Wild Things Are (Maurice Sendak), the Rupert Bear series (Mary Tourtel) and anything by Dr. Seus!
But the book I still remember most today, was my dad's favourite book to share with us. He'd explain that this one was special, because it was a storybook for our culture, and that these stories were very, very old - much older than any of us! And so my little kid heart locked on to Peter Gossage's collection of stories titled 'Maui and other Legends'. It was a series of 8 stories about Maui, the Māori deity who went on lots of cheeky adventures to give gifts to the human world.
At the time, there really wasn't much representation for lil' Indigenous Māori kids at all, let alone many Māori storybooks - so I have to pinch myself now, because I've had the priviledge of illustrating 5 to date in my professional career, and there are so many other wonderful Māori and Polynesian voices being heard too! The scarcity is a problem I can see being solved before my very eyes, one book at a time, and I'm thankful for that.
So those were the favourite books for me when I was very young - I loved each of them for a different reason, but honestly, I could list so many more, I really think there's something special about a good picture book. I love this question, because answering it proves just how long their impact can stay with you throughout your life.
What piece of software or hardware could you not live without and why?
Love this question, because I can say for-absolute-sure that my 12'' iPad pro and Apple pencil are essential to my work - along with my drawing software of choice, Procreate.
Before starting my career and before buying these tools, I would watch so many tutorials of which drawing tablet was best value, which tablet ran which software better, which tablet's pressure sensitivity was just right... But now after buying it and a couple years of use, if any artist asks me for advice on how to approach digital art, they better be ready for a huge rant about why I couldn't live without my iPad, pencil and Procreate software. It's great for experimenting, but the functions it provides also really helps me professionally, because I can import and export things so seamlessly.
I think the best part is it's intuitive and the brushes you csan use still feel, and most importantly, look real! I still want my digital art to feel traditional and alive so it's just so fun to play around on a tool that can do that for me. I also chose the biggest size of iPad so that I have a better sense of drawing on an 'A4' sketchbook - this just helps me transition much easier from page to screen!
Which area of children’s publishing excites you the most?
I'm super passionate about Indigenous publishing actually, and somehow I've been fortunate enough that this area of publishing more or less finds me!
My interest in this area comes from my passion for appropriate representation in children's books and media for everyone, overall - but I find myself working in the Māori sector of Indigenous Publishing, Character design and Illustration most, because I am Māori myself. Frankly, this is such a precious gift I feel I have, getting to add to a growing resource of inclusive and culturally proud books that I truly feel, aren't just for Māori, but for all people in Aotearoa-New Zealand and anyone who wants to enjoy the stories we share.
I think anyone will read them and know that it comes from the heart, and when you can create like that, I still feel it can be shared with everyone.
Have you visited any schools to speak or hold workshops?
Yes! Periodically I work with a couple organisations who have partnerships with schools around Southeast-Qld. I teach workshops to students grade 7-12 about Visual Storytelling, both for the page and for the screen. I bring in my experience as both an Animator and an Illustrator here, and it's all about just giving it a go. Mostly, I just want to see more kids drawing without feeling self-conscious about it, so they can start just having fun with it!
I always love bringing in a few chunky Art Books from my favourite artists or TV shows too, to show them how to take their interest further, and what it's like behind the scenes for the creators of these works.
Animals feature heavily in children’s books – do you have a pet?
Absolutely. Please meet my fur baby, her full name is Mozart Hemi-Morehouse, but she goes by many names. The highlights are Momo, Baby Mo, Mozambique, Moses and pretty much anything beginning with Mo - . She very vocal, very snuggly and occassional scares the ghost out of me when she brings mice inside the house (she's generous like that).
As a freelancer, it helps to have a little grump bossing me around and keeping me on track, so I often refer to her as my boss or my supervisor - you'll even see her feature heavily as a character in my book 'The Greatest Haka Festival on Earth' (which is the English version of Mokopuna Matatini).
I'm on a personal mission to add all the family pets into books actually, and have done the same for my Mother's dog Molly, who is featured in my book 'How my Koro Became a Star' (which is the English version of Kua Wheturangitia A Koro).
Have you always loved to draw?
1000% yes! I started when I was a kid, and then I just didn't stop really. I was lucky to grow up in a really creative household where we were more likely to reach for some crayons rather than a TV remote.
We loved scrapbooking, collaging, filmmaking, cubby house creating, sticker making, song writing, comic drawing - pretty much anything we decided would be fun that day.
My siblings and I are all still creating to this day - all professionally too! So I think it really goes to show that supportive creative environments, and places where you're given permission to experiment, are really important. It allowed me to find my heroes in creators and artists as a young person, and I was allowed to take them and their professions seriously as well.
Who or what have been some of your major artistic influences?
I think now, as an adult, I'm really inspired by graphic artists/cartoonist like Loïc Locatelli-Kournwsky. His work to me feels as young and fresh as the cartoons I've always adored, except he's brought them into a more adult, gritty setting. I love how he's been able to do this without compromising on any vibrancy, or gentleness in his overall design. It makes for a really interesting, universally appealing style that really inspires me.
The exact same can be said about another all time favourite graphic artist/comic book artist of mine, Rachel Smythe - what an amazing creator. Her work, Lore Olympus, is a fantastic example of the kind of project I hope to create myself one day. Gritty, but still feminine, vulnerable yet brave - and all along the way, amazing colour and anatomy. I could go on and on about her art honestly.
I also find Drag Queens and other Fashion Creators/Designers incredibly inspiring! They bring their visisons completely to life, and it astounds me to see the power they hold, even just in the way they walk. They've fully embraced the illusion their art gives them, and I find their stance, their energy and their incredible silouettes and fashion so, so fun to draw!
Along with a few others, these are my current major artistic influences and I'm loving seeing the glimpses of their inspiring work slowly mixing into my own.